Can Help Content Have Recognizable Facets?

In my previous post, I wrote about faceted search and faceted classification, and how facets can help users narrow information to a specific topic. Even if you've never heard the term "faceted search," you've no doubt used it on various websites, like Google, Amazon, Linkedin, and more. When you perform a search, you get a list of filters to further narrow the information. Each of the filters (or facets) narrows the results. Here's facete...

Faceted Search and Query Reformulation

One interesting study Mark Baker pointed me to is Incompetent Research Skills Curb Users' Problem Solving on the Nielsen Normal site. Nielsen found that searchers are becoming so trusting with search results that they assume if they don't find the answer immediately with the same type of search query, the answer isn't available. They don't try different search strategies to try to surface different results. Nielsen writes, Still, the roug...

On Metadata and Help Content

At the recent Drupalcon conference, Karen McGrane gave an awesome keynote titled Thriving in a World of Change: Future-friendly content with Drupal. (Although I didn't attend the conference, the talk and her slides are online.) In her presentation, Karen emphasized the need to transform content management systems away from the "content goes here" type of blob to a CMS that separates content from format, one that allows users to embed met...

Moving Beyond the TOC in Organizing Help Content -- Illustrated Edition

I'm working on some slides for an upcoming presentation and wanted to post them here because they encapsulate a lot of my thoughts about organizing help content and findability. Let me know if you have feedback. I tried to create the slides as a storybook.

What Does Content Re-Use Look Like in a Web CMS?

One challenge I've recently been considering is how to handle content re-use on a web content management system, such as Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, or some other web platform. Let's say you're writing about ACME widgets and have three different audiences: ACME developers, ACME sales people, and ACME administrators. All your help content is hosted on the same web platform. In this scenario, you have a lot of different information, much of ...

Is Structured Authoring (like DITA) a Good Fit for Publishing on a Website?

5/22 update: This post generated a lot of controversy, and I believe part of the controversy could have been avoided if I had articulated my ideas better. I've gone through and updated parts of this post by adding notes. My additions appear in green. The previous title was "Structured Authoring Versus the Web". However, of course the web uses structured authoring. Every web form in this post -- the title, body, category, tag, date, featur...

Why Long Topics Are Better for the User

In my previous post, Do Short Topics Make Information More Findable, I argued that shorter topics make it more difficult for users to find information. I ended the post by saying that topics that are more substantial make content more findable. But how big should the topics be? Obviously not the length of a book, because that switches us right back into the book paradigm. There's probably not an exact way to determine topic length, becaus...

Do Short Topics Make Information More Findable?

In my last post, which now has more than 80 comments, I noted that authoring with DITA seemed to encourage authors to create a lot of little topics. DITA experts chimed in to say DITA doesn't constrain users with topic length in their outputs -- authors can combine topics as needed. However, one commenter noted that short topics are a best practice anyway: Most users I have written for have no desire to read or skim through a long page of...

Does Merging Support Content with Documentation Increase Findability?

In many companies, documentation and support are different kingdoms, with their own tools, processes, and workflow. As such, the content usually remains separate. When users need information, they have to search different content repositories (that is, if support even even makes its content accessible to users at all). It seems natural that combining the search scope to include both support content and documentation would create a winning...

What makes Basketball Fun? Gamifying Exercise

I owe a lot to James Naismith, the man who invented basketball. In case you're unfamiliar with the origin of basketball, basketball is actually an evolution of running. Naismith was an exercise coach who tried making exercise more fun by placing peach baskets at both ends of a gym. Previously, people would run around or do other exercises with no explicit purpose. Now they would try to put a soccer ball in a peach basket. In other words, ...

Does DITA Encourage Authors to Fragment Information into a Million Little Pieces?

For an updated post on this topic, see DITA's output does not require you to separate tasks from concepts. I'm currently exploring the possibility of authoring content in DITA (using a tool such as easyDITA), publishing to an HTML web help output (through the DITA Open Toolkit), and then importing the output into Drupal (through some Python scripts someone has created). This sounds like a good workflow to me, but I've kind of run into a l...

How Do You Teach New Users Programming?

I've recently fallen in love with a site called Code Academy, which juxtaposes a real-time programming console with instructions and activities. It's the most hands-on, interactive site I've come across, and I want to someday model my own help to be like it. Here are a few key points: Users learn by doing. Each concept has an associated activity with it that reinforces the concept through the activity. The concepts have to be somewhat si...

How Can a Technical Writer Develop a Love of Programming Code?

Anne Gentle, one of my favorite bloggers, recently wrote about the diverse backgrounds of the technical writers around her — see Developers, Writers, and First Jobs. In her post, she included a job description for a "Microsoft Programming Writer." It's kind of a mind-blowing description. Here's what Microsoft is apparently looking for: You are comfortable creating both code and prose. You have a passion for the web and its ability to solv...

How Do You Gamify Writing?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Gamifying Chores. While chores are easy to quantify and measure, activities such as writing have a different dynamic. How do you gamify an activity that has so many complicated facets, purposes, and forms? Blogging is one way to gamify writing. Blogging introduces game elements to make writing more fun. Blogging makes writing so much fun, in fact, that about 2 million new blog posts are written each da...

Why Do People Rank High on the MindTouch #Techcomm Influencer Report?

MindTouch recently released their report about the most influential people in techcomm, and I was happy to rank so high. I've had varying reactions to this report for the past several years. The first year MindTouch released the report (2010), I thought it was an ingenious marketing tactic. Within days after the initial release, the company had scores of bloggers inserting the badge on their sites, displaying MindTouch and linking back t...